For Scott Mellon ’12 (Bethlehem, Pa.) choosing to major in biology was an easy decision.
“Biology has always interested me. Living organisms contain such complex systems that have ingenious methods of obtaining what they need, but also have certain glaring defects. Biology also has so many practical applications, and new discoveries have the potential to greatly improve the quality of life of many people,” says Mellon.
Mellon’s interest and work in the field has now paid off as he has been awarded an Undergraduate Research Fellowship by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM). The grant will cover costs for his research on campus this summer and travel expenses to the 2012 annual ASM conference, where he will present his work.
His ongoing research with Laurie Caslake associate professor and head of biology, focuses on the ability of desert crust bacteria to repair their DNA after being damaged by various treatments. The standard organism for these kinds of experiments is Deinococcus radiodurans, bacteria that can survive high levels of desiccation, UV radiation, and ionizing radiation.
“Desert crust bacteria are important because they provide a source of nutrition in an environment where nutrients are very scarce, and they solidify the soil and prevent erosion,” explains Mellon. “From a scientific standpoint, the research is important because it explores previously unknown ways that DNA can be repaired, and we may discover that many kinds of bacteria can live in places that were previously believed to be uninhabitable.”
Mellon spent this school year exposing the bacteria to UV radiation and measuring survival. For the summer, Mellon and Caslake will expose the bacteria to bleomycin, an antibiotic that causes DNA damage by causing double strand breaks. They will also observe the bacteria putting the fragments back together.
Caslake is impressed with what Mellon is accomplishing with the research. “Scott is very capable in the laboratory. He has a sharp mind and asks questions based on his results. He had an interesting proposal and the academic credentials to support his proposal. This year the American Society for Microbiology awarded 39 fellowships for summer research out of all U.S. students who applied, so it is an honor that Scott received this fellowship.”
After graduating, Mellon plans to go to graduate school for microbiology or molecular biology and to get a job in the biotech industry.
“I was always leaning in this direction, but I was not positive that it was what I wanted to do until I started doing this research,” he says. “I love the feeling of making new discoveries that no one has made before and the process of trying to figure out why one particular result occurred as opposed to another.”